By Rachel Harvey
When you are unsure of yourself and start pulling back into doubt and small living, she’s the one inside saying, ‘get up from there and live like the glorious girl you are.’ She’s the power inside you, you understand. And whatever it is that keeps you widening your heart, that’s Mary too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lilly, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love, but to persist in love. ~ The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
“You’re old enough to make up your own mind.” Rev. Jan had patiently listened to my conflict of faith for a while before shattering my worldview with one sentence.
I grew up in a loving Pennsylvania Dutch family and church where conversations about sexuality were taboo. When I arrived at college two hours from everything and everyone I knew, Neil, my neighbor and Resident Advisor was the first person I met. We became quick friends sharing a dry sense of humor, love of volleyball and desire to change the world as social workers. Through my friendship with Neil and participants in a multicultural student group I began to find a new sense of home.
A few months into the semester I learned through the grapevine that Neil was gay…and I freaked out. Neil was the first out gay person I’d met, and in addition to smashing all stereotypes I’d learned about gay people, he was a really great friend. After suffering silently through the conflict of my faith (a belief that gay people were sinning and therefore going to hell) and friendship with Neil, I thankfully crossed paths with Rev. Jan Bye, the campus minister, who I was sure would tell me what to do.
Rev. Jan was the first person of faith who invited me to critically think about my faith, to question what I believed as an act of deep discipleship. She carved out a space in her office where I felt both safe to share and held accountable to explain my belief framework. I asked her for information from “both sides of the issue” which she provided and asked me to talk to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, get to know them, hear their personal stories and remember that people’s lives and love are not issues. When I felt ready, I went back to Neil and asked to hear about his journey as a gay man. As I heard other stories, made new friends, read and prayed, I felt a widening of my heart. I began to see God revealed in the lives and love of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the layers of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus unveiled in new ways.
In 2006 when I first read The Secret Life of Bees, I felt like I’d finally found language to name the force that Rev. Jan and others had in my life. These “Mary’s” pivot on a persistent love of self and neighbor and call me to live the fullness of the Gospel through gracefully engaging in acts of solidarity. As a straight woman of color they have provided spaces for me to explore my experiences of privilege and marginality and through their support I continue to build up my resilience to oppressive forces within society and the church. As I seek to live a life that makes space for others to lead lives of love over fear, I give thanks for Rev. Jan and all the “Mary’s” in my life who have called me from doubt and small living to persist in love.
Rachel Harvey is a United Methodist Deaconess appointed to serve as Program Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, organizing with United Methodists working for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the Church and world. As a Deaconess, Rachel is in covenant community with “Mary’s” who’ve made a lifelong commitment to engage in ministries of love, justice and service. She grew up in Lebanon, PA, and has worked in United Methodist campus ministries, general agencies and organizations her whole life.